Outdoors Magazine

Arriving in the Hermit Islands: Typical of Our PNG Experience

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

Our arrival at the Hermit Islands was hardly auspicious. After two nights at sea with all the squall dodging fun the convergence zone has to offer, our morning arrival is darkened by thundercloud formations on several sides.
Luf island Looking down at the main village: Luf Island, in better weather
The Hermits are a group of volcanic islands, inside a lagoon roughly 10 miles across and surrounded by a barrier reef: much like the Bora Bora and other Leeward / Society Islands of French Polynesia. We hope to enter on the northeast side, but it’s a narrow entry and we don’t have good enough light to discern the reef from the passage. So we continue to the west side, where the entrance yawns to nearly a mile wide. Even with the latest squall dumping rain in near zero visibility, we can see well enough to make through that large opening. There’s none of the crazy current or wave action we found in Pacific lagoons so it’s an easier call to make in these conditions.
The Navionics charts we’re using turn out to be pretty accurate, but we don’t know that yet, so although Totem is safely inside the lagoon (and enjoying a much more comfortable sea state) we make slow work of picking our way through islands and reefs to the anchorage off the main village. Adding a minor bit of drama, both of the meat lines behind Totem pick up beautiful fish: a bigeye trevally, and a nice Spanish mackerel. So with one eye on the reefs, another on the squalls, and then juggling landing two fish- things get a little busy for a while.
As Totem nears Luf’s main village, we circle the bay to suss out a suitable spot to anchor. It’s tricky, because depths of 135’ and above are adjacent to coral heads that nearly break the surface. Then, as so often happens in PNG, a villager paddles out and offers local knowledge to the bumbling visitors. We have a standing joke about “the welcoming committees” who greet us, but it’s a lovely gesture that has been the norm here. We’re welcomed, aided in safely anchoring, and have a chance to ask questions- so we can work out who the chief/elder is (to bring a gift and formally ask permission to be there) and any guidelines locals have for us- as well as any requests we want to make. It’s a friendly exchange.
This time, our welcoming committee turns out to be the Hermit’s elected government representative, Bob Poplis. We invite him aboard, and give him one of the fish we caught on the way in.  At times like that, it seems ironic that so many cruisers choose not to come to PNG because of safety concerns. To be sure- there are very dangerous parts of PNG- but our experience in these outer islands is typified by this kind of friendly aid. With assurance that a particular mooring is secured to a large anchor (and some chain which probably wraps around a chunk of old coral rock), we tie up and relax.
We learn that the Hermits don’t receive many visitors (the registry book ashore indicates that as 2012 draws to a close we are the 15th boat in for the year), so we represent both a curiosity and an opportunity. Bob is eager to help us learn more about their islands and is attuned to things we’ll probably be interested in: the narrow pass where giant mantas feed, anchorage views from the top of their volcanic peak, islets with seabird rookeries, and more. He shares their guidelines: that we check in with him on the things we want to do and places we want to go. We share ours, which is simply that we’re tired from the passage, and a little unwell, and would like to have a few days of quiet.
And so Bob paddles back. We put the boat away from our passage, retreat to rest and recover, and barely move for a few days of drizzle, movies, books, and sleep!

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